NFL Free Agency: Which of the Top Players Should Philadelphia Eagles Consider?

Cody Swartz@cbswartz5Senior Writer IJanuary 25, 2013

NFL Free Agency: Which of the Top Players Should Philadelphia Eagles Consider?

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    The start of free agency is as good of a time as ever to upgrade an NFL team. The Philadelphia Eagles went on a spending spree two offseasons ago, acquiring six players that had at one point made a Pro Bowl or been voted All-Pro.

    The Eagles haven’t so much as had a winning season since those signings, perhaps learning the hard way that championships can’t be bought.

    New head coach Chip Kelly has a tough task ahead of him. There’s the question of whether his offense will translate to the NFL level, and if Nick Foles can run his system. There’s the awful secondary that directly led to a 4-12 season. And there’s the fact that the Eagles have a lot of holes in their roster, significant holes that led to 11 losses in 12 games down the stretch.

    Free agency has a talented list of players set to earn a big paycheck. The top 30 are all going to be highly sought-after, and the Eagles will assuredly have interest in a handful of them. The following breaks down each available player in the top 30, and whether the Eagles should consider signing him.

Quarterback: Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens (28)

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    There’s no way the Baltimore Ravens allow Joe Flacco to walk in free agency. He’s not a top-10 quarterback, but he’s proven to come up big for them in clutch games.

    Flacco has three conference championship game appearances in five NFL seasons, and he’s just 28 years old. He can throw a terrific deep ball, thanks to the strongest arm in the game. And the Philadelphia Eagles will likely try a quarterback in the draft soon that fits Chip Kelly’s offense well.

    Level of Interest: No Way

Running Back: Danny Woodhead, New England Patriots (27)

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    Danny Woodhead has been a key component of the New England Patriots offense over the last several seasons. That being said, he’s not the kind of player they will re-sign.

    The Patriots can get production out of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, each of whom was taken in the 2010 NFL draft. Woodhead probably won’t be back, but the Philadelphia Eagles have no use for him either. The Eagles have plenty of running backs already.

    Level of Interest: Low

Wide Receiver: Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers (29)

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    Greg Jennings probably won’t be back in Green Bay in 2013. He’s been all but replaced by the trio of Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones.

    And Jennings will command a sizeable contract. The Philadelphia Eagles could use a big receiver, but he’s not even six feet tall.

    Level of Interest: Low

Wide Receiver: Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs (28)

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    Dwayne Bowe is definitely an intriguing candidate for Philadelphia Eagles fans. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are a terrific duo, but they’re both undersized and injury-prone.

    Bowe is a huge target at 6’2” and over 220 pounds. He’s made a Pro Bowl and totaled 1,000 receiving yards in three different seasons. Bowe would be an excellent red zone addition for a team that has struggled to score when near the end zone.

    He’s 28 years old, which means he could be a top talent for another five seasons still. But considering the Eagles are already paying Jackson $10 million per year, Bowe is out of their price range. Bringing him in would all but guarantee Maclin leaves after ’13.

    Level of Interest: Medium

Wide Receiver: Wes Welker, New England Patriots (32)

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    Wes Welker has been a true master of his profession over the last six seasons. Since joining the New England Patriots in 2007, he’s averaged 112 catches and 1,243 receiving yards per campaign.

    Welker is limited physically in that he’s just 5’9” and lines up exclusively in the slot. But he’s tough as nails, and he’s almost automatic for 100 receptions anymore.

    The bottom line for Welker is that he’s a terrific player, and if he doesn’t return to New England, his services will be highly requested. Philly isn’t a great fit though with how well Jason Avant plays the slot.

    Level of Interest: Low

Wide Receiver: Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers (27)

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    Mike Wallace is an incredibly talented football player, but he’s not coming to Philly. Wallace would probably command a contract of at least $12 million per season for six years, and he’s too similar to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.

    That doesn’t mean Chip Kelly wouldn’t love having him. But it’s not even an option.

    Level of Interest: None

Wide Receiver: Danny Amendola, St. Louis Rams (27)

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    Bringing Danny Amendola back to Philadelphia would reunite him with his former team. The Philadelphia Eagles had Amendola on their practice squad in 2009, but the St. Louis Rams claimed him.

    Amendola has emerged as one of the better slot receivers in the game, although he’s struggled with serious injuries. He’s still just 27 years old though, and he could probably catch 100 passes if he was featured like the New England Patriots use Wes Welker.

    The Eagles have a good slot receiver though, so let the other teams bid for Amendola.

    Level of Interest: Low

Tight End: Dustin Keller, New York Jets (28)

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    Dustin Keller hasn’t quite been the player the New York Jets thought he would be. Keller was a first-round pick in 2008, and he’s a borderline top-10 player.

    He played just eight games in ’12 and the emergence of Jeff Cumberland may make Keller expendable. Keller caught just 28 passes and two touchdowns, and a change of scenery may be good for him.

    Keller would be a good fit in the Philadelphia Eagles offense considering the growing trend of two-tight end sets. But he’s not worth the price the team would have to pay for him, and Clay Harbor is a solid backup.

    Level of Interest: Low

Offensive Tackle: Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos (26)

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    Ryan Clady should be fortunate the Denver Broncos signed Peyton Manning when they did. After a miserable 2011 season for Clady, he turned it around in ’12.

    The turnaround was largely because the offense switched from the left-handed Tim Tebow to the extremely efficient Peyton Manning. Clady was a superstar this past year though, allowing just one sack while playing in 1,141 offensive snaps. That’s the fifth-highest total of any offensive tackle in the game.

    Clady will be paid as one of the game’s best left tackles, and it’s almost a certainty he re-signs with Denver. The team has to protect Manning, and that means making sure his line is as good as possible.

    Level of Interest: Low

Offensive Tackle: Andre Smith, Cincinnati Bengals (26)

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    If the Philadelphia Eagles do sign an offensive tackle, Andre Smith may be a good fit. He’s a right tackle, and the Eagles could definitely use a right tackle.

    Todd Herremans struggled in that role in 2012 before suffering a season-ending injury. He is better suited at guard anyway. Switching Herremans to guard would allow the team to end the Danny Watkins experiment, as he has been a huge disappointment.

    Smith was well on his way to being a bust through two NFL seasons, but he’s turned it around. He played at a high level the past two campaigns (2012 Pro Football Focus First-Team All-Pro), and now he can test free agency. The only concerns about Smith would be his injury history (19 missed games in his first two seasons) and his annual weight problems.

    Level of Interest: High

Offensive Tackle: Jake Long, Miami Dolphins (28)

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    Who would have thought Jake Long would have fallen off so much? Check out the breakdown of his sacks allowed:

    2008: two sacks allowed in 16 games

    2009: four sacks allowed in 16 games

    2010: six sacks allowed in 16 games

    2011: five sacks allowed in 14 games

    2012: four sacks allowed in 12 games

    He’s spent the last two seasons on injured reserve. His pass blocking was his biggest strength when he entered the league, and he’s no more than average at this point. Where he signs remains to be determined. But the Philadelphia Eagles won’t waste their time with Long.

    Level of Interest: Low

Offensive Tackle: Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots (28)

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    The New England Patriots will probably let Sebastian Vollmer go. Nate Solder is the franchise’s left tackle, and they would have to pay a lot to retain their right tackle.

    Vollmer is a borderline elite tackle, and he does play on the right side. If the Philadelphia Eagles want a right tackle, Vollmer could be an intriguing option. He’s had some mild injury problems, but he’s a talented player.

    Level of Interest: Medium

Offensive Tackle: Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs (28)

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    Andy Reid loves his linemen, but he may not want Branden Albert back in Kansas City. Albert is a free agent, and he’s a solid left tackle.

    He gave up just one sack in 2012, although he did miss a handful of games due to injury.

    Albert was a former first-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, and he’s only ever played left tackle for them. Considering the Philadelphia Eagles have a perfectly good left tackle, they won’t need Albert.

    Level of Interest: Low

Guard: Andy Levitre, Buffalo Bills (27)

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    The name won’t wow anyone, but a case could be made for Andy Levitre as one of the NFL’s most attractive free agents. The 27-year-old has played at a Pro Bowl level for the past two seasons, paving the way for Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.

    Levitre is an exceptional pass blocker as well. He has played primarily at left guard since the Buffalo Bills drafted him in the second round in 2009. But he’s also filled in at left tackle for two games and center for a game.

    Evan Mathis is as good of a left guard as there is in the league. Pairing Levitre (at right guard) with Mathis would turn the Philadelpiha Eagles into one of the finer offensive lines in the league. Chip Kelly values versatile and athletic offensive linemen, and Levitre fills both of those categories.

    Level of Interest: High

Guard: Brandon Moore, New York Jets (32)

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    Brandon Moore is a good fallback plan for a team that misses out on Andy Levitre. He’s five years older and not quite as talented.

    But he’s still played at a high level for a number of years. Moore rated as the fourth-best guard in the entire NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus. And he actually plays at right guard, so he could fill in for the ineffective Danny Watkins.

    Level of Interest: High

Defensive End: Cliff Avril, Detroit Lions (26)

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    The price to pay for a defensive end like Cliff Avril is just too high for the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s only 26 years old and he’s averaged a touch over 10 sacks and four forced fumbles the past two seasons.

    The problem is that the Eagles won’t be able to pay Avril. He already rejected a three-year, $30 million deal from the Detroit Lions earlier this season, and said he has no qualms about doing so.

    Level of Interest: Low

Defensive End: Michael Bennett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (27)

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    Michael Bennett isn’t one of the bigger names in free agency, but he’s a talented all-around 4-3 defensive end. Bennett plays pretty well for a former undrafted free agent, as the 27-year-old was remarkably productive in 2012.

    He is a natural pass-rusher, but also excels at stopping the run. Bennett registered 28 quarterback hurries, more than Elvis Dumervil or Jason Pierre-Paul.

    The Philadelphia Eagles have Trent Cole and Brandon Graham, though, as a pair of productive ends. And the team may be switching to a 3-4, so Bennett probably won’t fit.

    Level of Interest: Low

Defensive Tackle: Henry Melton, Chicago Bears (26)

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    If Henry Melton can play nose tackle in a 3-4, the Philadelphia Eagles will have a lot of interest in him. He’s a terrific pass-rusher for an interior lineman, and he’s just 26 years old.

    The problem is that Melton weighs just 260 pounds. It’s a wonder he can even play defensive tackle in a 4-3. Forget about a 3-4 formation.

    Level of Interest: Low

Defensive Tackle: Randy Starks, Miami Dolphins (29)

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    Randy Starks has played in both a 4-3 and a 3-4, so he could be a viable option. Starks played end in the Miami Dolphins’ 3-4 in 2011, and then defensive tackle in the team’s 4-3 this past year.

    Starks is listed at close to 315 pounds, and he may be an option to be a nose tackle. He’s versatile and he’s a good pass-rusher. That should definitely make Starks an option.

    Level of Interest: Medium

Outside Linebacker: Anthony Spencer, Dallas Cowboys (28)

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    Anthony Spencer will be a highly coveted outside linebacker in free agency. He’s a tremendous pass-rusher, and playing in a 3-4 with the Philadelphia Eagles should bring out his strengths even more.

    Spencer can’t cover particularly well, but he’s a fine run stopper and phenomenal pass-rusher. He registered 11 sacks in a breakout campaign in ’12 that resulted in his first Pro Bowl selection. It was the perfect time for Spencer’s strong play.

    The Eagles tried and failed at signing a slew of talented free agents two offseasons ago. But if they want to take a look at Spencer, he’s worth considering.

    Level of Interest: Medium

Inside Linebacker: Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears (34)

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    Brian Urlacher’s career in Chicago appears to be over, which means he will have to test the free agent market for the first time ever.

    Urlacher has played in a 3-4 and 4-3, and he could be a good fit for the Philadelphia Eagles’ new 3-4. Urlacher can tackle and he can stop the run, two traits that have been lacking for the Eagles in recent years. His age (34) makes him merely a short-term option, but he could help in 2013.

    Level of Interest: Medium

Cornerback: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Philadelphia Eagles (27)

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    The Philadelphia Eagles are well aware of what Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can and can’t do. He can cover with the best of the best when he wants to. But he also struggles to stay consistent, to stay motivated, and to play 60 minutes of a game.

    DRC will be highly sought-after in the free agent market. He’s 26 years old and has a Pro Bowl on his resume. It’s not unlikely to expect a contract similar to the one Brandon Carr signed with the Dallas Cowboys (five years, $50 million).

    I’ve personally advocated that the Eagles need to allow DRC to walk. He’s not worth the money. The Eagles would be better off drafting a young corner and playing Brandon Boykin opposite him.

    Level of Interest: Medium

Cornerback: Sean Smith, Miami Dolphins (25)

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    If the Philadelphia Eagles allow Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to walk, Sean Smith could be a good fit. He had a solid contract year in 2012, playing good football for the Miami Dolphins.

    Smith is just 25 years old. He started all 16 games the past two seasons, and he has the potential to be a Pro Bowl player. He’s got terrific size as well. Smith is one of the top corners in a good cornerback class in free agency, should the team have interest in him.

    Level of Interest: Medium

Cornerback: Aqib Talib, New England Patriots (26)

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    The New England Patriots took a gamble in a trade for Aqib Talib, and he played well for them. The whole world really saw his value in the AFC Championship Game, when his injury allowed Joe Flacco to shred the Patriots’ secondary.

    Talib is 26 years old and still in the prime of his career. He has a ton of talent, although he does carry off-the-field baggage.

    Level of Interest: Low

Cornerback: Brent Grimes, Atlanta Falcons (29)

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    If he hadn’t gotten hurt early in the 2012 season, Brent Grimes would have been a huge prize for a team in free agency. But he’s coming off a torn Achilles tendon, and he’s close to 30 years old.

    Grimes is a former NFL Europe star who transitioned into a Pro Bowl player in the NFL. He’s an excellent cover corner and the Atlanta Falcons probably don’t need him with Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson already locked up to high contracts.

    Level of Interest: Low

Safety: Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills (26)

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    If the Philadelphia Eagles sign one player around the league, this should be the guy for multiple reasons.

    Jairus Byrd is a top-five safety in the NFL. He’s terrific in pass coverage, and he’s still just 26 years old. Byrd would upgrade a position that was the worst in the league in 2012. The problem is that he’s going to command a huge contract in free agency if he doesn’t return to Buffalo.

    Level of Interest: High

Safety: Dashon Goldson, San Francisco 49ers (28)

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    The Philadelphia Eagles definitely need some help at the safety position. Dashon Goldson is just 28 years old and he’s tremendous in pass coverage.

    Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are about as poor as it gets in the secondary. Goldson allowed opposing quarterbacks to post just a 44.8 passer rating in 2012. That’s phenomenal.

    Level of Interest: High

Safety: William Moore, Atlanta Falcons (27)

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    William Moore is another solid option for safety help. He’s going to cost a lot less than some of the better safeties.

    Moore is a talented all-around player in every facet of the game. He can cover, he can rush the quarterback, and he can even stop the run.

    Level of Interest: Medium

Safety: LaRon Landry, New York Jets (28)

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    Don’t be fooled by LaRon Landry’s Pro Bowl invitation. He’s not much more than an average safety.

    Landry may be physically gifted and a solid run stopper. But he’s merely adequate in defending against the pass. He’s a fine option for a year or two, but he’s not a long-term solution.

    Level of Interest: Medium

Punter: Mat McBriar, Philadelphia Eagles (33)

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    Punters are fairly replaceable in the NFL, considering about half the current punters in the league have been with their team for three or fewer seasons.

    Mat McBriar averaged 46.5 yards per punt with the Philadelphia Eagles, which is a fairly respectable total. But his net punting average of 36.5 yards was the worst in the league, and he’s already 33 years old.

    It might be a good move for the Eagles to spend a very low draft pick on a punter that can lock down the position for the next decade or so.